Thursday, September 4, 2014

My Favorite Planning Tools

I've spent a very long time figuring out how not to write a novel. Which means, along the way, I've figured out several ways to increase my odds of actually writing one. Here are my top six:

6. A Novel Idea

"A Novel Idea" is an app available for iPhones and iPads. It's one of the few reasons I hung on to my iPhone once I jumped ship for Androids (how I lived so long without Swype, I haven't a clue). It's very easy to use, lets you create multiple novels, lets you create crossover characters by attaching them to multiple novels, and it's very easy to manipulate. My Inked rewrites went from the poster board to this app to an Excel spreadsheet. It was easier to rearrange things on the app than on Excel, and I could plot on the go. Very useful thing. And the free version has everything you need, unless you want to switch between devices regularly, in which case the pro version will let you export.


You know those silly little bubble brainstorming maps you made in kindergarten through high school? Those were pretty cool, right? They let you figure out connections between things, and it was really easy to do. Problem was they work best on paper. It's not something you can really do with Word. But you can do it with this site, which is very user-friendly and allows you to manipulate your ideas to create connections between them. And you can't use up all the space in an area; you have an essentially unlimited amount of space in your "mind map" and can easily move the bubbles to make more room in a certain spot.

4. 101 Questions You Should Be Able To Answer About Your Character

Besides the character surveys I've already posted, this is my favorite by far. This questionnaire is in-depth, ranging from name and birthday to "describe yourself in three words". The questions are divided by topic, and they're all to be answered in your character's voice, which in case you haven't noticed is something I really like doing.

3. Complications Worksheet

Courtesy of one of my Camp NaNoWriMo cabin mates, the Complications Worksheet. It divides the book into four acts and presents questions regarding the beginning, middle, and end of each act. Answering these questions makes sure you can keep the tension level up in your story and that the middle doesn't sag.

2. The Three-Act, Eight-Sequence Structure

This was a freaking revelation for me. Talk all you want about the three-act structure; the division of each act into sequences makes it much easier to pace the novel. When I went to start structuring my Inked rewrites I took the manuscript and divided it into the sequences as I'd naturally written them. It was hugely helpful in showing me which sequences were too long, which too short, and which actually started or ended somewhere other than where I'd thought/planned for them to do.

1. The Structure Grid

I love index cards. I love that I can put totally blank index cards on a board and have it end up looking like a proper story structure. This is extremely useful for structuring, not least because it just looks pretty to have it all laid out. Having a structure so visible will let you see instantly where your sequences are too short or too long or where the tension level is too low or too high for a stretch at a time. I realized midway through plotting Inked that I'd introduced information in one scene that I'd accidentally used in a previous scene (oops!). Best of all, it was easy to fix that mistake. This is the only thing on this list that costs money to do, but it costs about $10 and most of that is the display board, which you get to use as many times as you want.

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